Thursday, December 11

The F-Word: Tackling the Nitty Gritty of Formatting

By Julie Musil, @juliemusil

Part of the Indie Author Series 


I was having lunch with a writer friend who plans to self publish a series. Of all the indie tasks, she was most overwhelmed by the dreaded F-Word. Formatting.

Believe me, I understand. I’d worried most about this as well. But now that I have two books out in the universe, I’ve come to realize that formatting is really simple.

If you’re trying to decide whether to format your own books or hire a freelancer, check out Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options on this site by Marcy Kennedy.

Why am I writing a detailed post about formatting? Because there are so many parts to formatting that you already know without realizing it. My writer friend had no idea that formatting was something she’d already been doing as a writer and editor. She’d thought it was some mysterious task that only tech experts did in their basements.

Even non-technie carpool moms can do it--I’m living proof. Don’t let the details scare you. Instead, embrace the control you’re gaining by learning how to format your own books.

First, some nitty gritty basics:
  • Once your manuscript has been edited and it’s ready for formatting, do a File>Save As. This way any changes you make will not alter the original document.
  • Show Invisibles--in Apple Pages, which is what I use, it’s under View>Show Invisibles. You’ll likely see blue dots and symbols. You’ll use these to format.

What do those symbols mean?
  • The paragraph symbol looks like a backward P -- like this ¶. Paragraph symbols should only be seen between paragraphs of your text. Remove any extra paragraphs.
  • Space dots. In Apple Pages, the space dots are blue and show up between each word. Only one space dot should be between words and at the end of a sentence (not two, as we were taught in the old days). Remove any additional spaces. Remove dots at the end of paragraphs.
  • In Apple Pages, page breaks are a long blue line with a bent page on the right (more about page breaks later). In Word, they’re identified by -----Page Break-----.

Notes about formatting:
  • Auto Indents--indented paragraphs should be set up automatically, either using Page Layout or the ruler bar at the top of the page. Do not space five times.
  • Left justified--for ebooks, the left side of the text should be justified. Leave the right jagged.
  • Remove indent at the beginning of each chapter, and at the beginning of each paragraph after a scene break.
  • Scene breaks can be noted with simple symbols, such as ***
  • Page break after each chapter, so they don’t run together. Insert>Page Break.

Front matter and back matter:

Front and back matter are the text before and after the story. It’s where you can add valuable information for readers to click through, such as a newsletter sign up or social media links. It’s also where you can link for readers to leave a review on Goodreads and the book distributor’s web site (such as Amazon).

Authors have their own preferences for front and back matter. Here’s how I’ve set up my books. Note: put a page break between each section (or cluster of sections), so the pages don’t run together.

1. Title page with author name, centered. Do not upload your cover here. Covers are uploaded separately on the distributor’s web site.

2. Brief summary page. I’ve added a page with a short summary of the book. I think of this as the jacket copy, which isn’t available on ebooks. If readers bought the book a while ago and can’t remember what it’s about, this summary will remind them.

3. Dedication page. Who are you dedicating your book to? Keep it short and simple.

4. Table of contents. Ebooks have links to chapters, so that readers can jump between chapters easily. For details on how to link the TOC in Apple Pages, I’d highly recommend the ebook From Pages ’09 to Kindle Format in Minutes. It’s easy, but too detailed for this post. Here’s a link to help with Word 2013.

5. Story, from beginning to end. Reminder: insert page breaks between chapters.

6. Links to write a review. I create a different document for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc., with applicable links for each distributor. Readers who finish the Kindle version will see a link to leave a review on Amazon.

7. Links to other books you have for sale. If you’ve written a trilogy, you’ll link to books two and three at the end of book one. I’ve written stand alone books, but each book links to the other.

8. Social media links.

9. Acknowledgements. This is where you can get a little more wordy about who you want to thank. Family, literary agent, beta readers, first grade teacher, etc.

10. Copyright. This is the boring legal part, so I put it last. If you’re unsure about how to write your copyright page, look to another book and adapt it for your own use.

Whew! Boring, right? But so useful! Once you’ve learned how to format your own books, you can easily make changes whenever you want. For more details on formatting, check out Mark Coker’s free ebook Smashwords’ Style Guide or this formatting guide from KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

If you’ve indie published, did you format your own books? Is the fear of formatting ebooks preventing you from indie publishing? Any formatting tips you’d like to share? 

Julie Musil writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her Young Adult novels, The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire, are available now. For more information, or to stop by an say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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24 comments:

  1. I disagree with the jagged right edge...

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  2. Janice, thanks for having me here!

    R. Mac--that's the beauty of formatting your own books. You get to do it how you want it!

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  3. I have to agree with R. Mac. Why choose left justification over fully justified? I can be taught…
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. My training is in graphic design, and left justified means aligned on both sides, but lines that aren't full lines across are aligned left only. Full justified means those half-full lines have the words spread out so it fills the whole line. So the normal justification we see in print books is left justified. It's the difference between (let's see if I can fake it here)

      Here's a line left justified, pretend this goes all the way to the end.
      Here's a line full justified with extra spaces to fit.

      Make sense?

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    2. Ragged right has one advantage over justified; there are no "ugly" lines. In a print book, the typesetter can force hyphenation or subtly spread out the spacing between letters so that extra wide spaces between words are reduced. This isn't possible (or desirable) in an ebook because the reader has the option of changing fonts and type size, which makes the lines reflow. In a justified ebook, you are likely to see some lines with two or three words and super wide spacing in between. Some people like the look of fully justified pages enough to put up with the occasional ugly line. Other people like the look of the consistently spaced lines in ragged right pages. It boils down to taste. Old typesetters like me tend to go RR because the impulse to try and fix bad lines is too strong and we are left feeling helpless and distraught at the sight of them.

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    3. Okay, Janice. And Janet. Thanks.
      While I think your example got eaten by the posting software, your description hints that I used left justified incorrectly, I guess, thinking of left justified as that which yields a ragged right edge, and fully justified as what is actually left justified. Gotcha.

      My (limited) experience says that in a normal document, if you end up with text spread across the whole line, it’s because the line isn’t ended with a return. In Word, or Pages (when I used it) and Scrivener, left justification is the default, and I find that the ugly, spread-across-the-whole-line lines come at the end, when there’s no return to close them. This assumes that the issue Janet points out with short lines and/or large fonts isn’t in play.

      But I do acknowledge the freedom of font selection the ereader provides can make for some ugly lines internal to a paragraph. I’ll give that some consideration.

      Thanks to both of you for straightening me out!

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    4. I've read ebooks with fully justified lines which had large spaces in between. I believe Mark Coker suggests leaving the right side jagged in his formatting book (but I can't be positive). Since people read on a wide range of devices, leaving the lines jagged on the right gives you the assurance that the text will flow freely despite the device that's being used (iPhone, iPad, Kindle, etc.) But again, authors are free to do it how they want it! But it's a great idea to do what Janet suggests--view your document on the online previewer and change the device options. This way you'll know for sure how it'll look on small screens and larger screens.

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    5. Oh, and I'd add that I fully justify the lines in print books, but that's an entirely different subject :)

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  4. Excellent, detailed post, Julie. This is the kind of information new authors really need. Thanks!

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  5. What is the benefit over using In Design vs. Word for formatting?

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    1. InDesign is a pretty expensive program. If you are doing something with a lot of graphics, ID might be the way to go, but it's a big investment in $$ and in training.

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    2. InDesign is also a professional page layout program created for graphic design, and it's not really set up to create ebooks. You can save files as epub, but it doesn't handle them very well that I've seen (though I've only dabbled with it since Word handles the files better for ebooks).

      For print books ID is wonderful, and I did all the layout for my writing book with it. I used Word for the ebook though.

      Price is also a consideration, though you can now get it through a monthly subscription, which would make it easier. Subscribe for a month, do your book, and cancel the subscription.

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  6. Laurisa, I don't have any experience with In Design. Common word processing programs, like Word and Pages, make it really easy to format, and they're releasing updates all the time that (usually) make the process even easier.

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    1. The Atlantis Word Processor is also excellent at creating ebooks.

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    2. I’ll stick my oar in here and say Scrivener, not free but less than ID and maybe Word (except probably every Windows user got it with their ‘puter) does ebooks (mobi and epub) directly, and creates a bang-up pdf file for POD.

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    3. Soooo many writers swear by Scrivener! I signed up for a free class on the program and was quickly overwhelmed. Maybe one day I'll spend the time and catch up on that learning curve.

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  7. Julie, this is great info. I would add one thing. Once you've uploaded your book, take advantage of the previewer to see what your book will actually look like on an ereader. Amazon will let you see what it looks like on all their various Kindles. If it looks funky, don't worry. You can still fix whatever the problem is and reupload before releasing the book to the world.

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    1. Janet, I'm so glad you added this comment! Yes, yes, yes, use the online previewers! And I love how you can change the device option and see how the book will look on iPhone, iPad, Kindle, etc.

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  8. Scrivener is great when it comes to formatting since it makes both epubs and mobi files, but the learning curve is a pain.

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    1. I didn’t see this until after I replied above. I didn’t find Scrivener difficult to learn, but yes, it has a blue-million options; choosing can be… interesting.

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  9. Great tips, Julie! I've formatted my four e-books myself, with very few problems. But there's always more to learn, I find! I just checked your link to KDP and wondered about this:

    Saving as Filtered HTML
    Once you have inserted your page breaks and are confident with the layout of your book, save your Word file to your Documents folder or Desktop in Web Page, Filtered (*HTM & *HTML) (for PC) or Web Page (.htm) (for Mac) format. This format is required to build a successful eBook.

    When saving the Word file as HTML, all the images (if any) in the Word file will be extracted, and will be stored in a separate folder. This folder will be saved in the same location where the HTML file is saved.

    Uploading Your eBook For Sale on Amazon
    Once you're satisfied with the quality and presentation of your book, upload the Word file to KDP.

    I haven't ever done that step of saving the Word Doc as Web Page, filtered (HTML). I've just uploaded my Word doc to KDP, and the e-books seem to look fine. Of course, I have properly formatted them, and there are a lot of steps that many newbie indie publishers don't know, most of which you mention. An important step is to do "Control +A (for All), then "Clear formatting," which on my PC is the little blackboard and eraser, to take out all that weird formatting lurking underneath the surface of your doc! That's a biggie.

    Anyway, just uploading a properly formatted Word doc seems to work fine for me, but maybe I should start saving it as "Web page, filtered, HTML" from now on. Do you or any of the readers have any thoughts on this?

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Jodie Renner, editor & author

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    1. Jodie, I've never followed that step either. I convert my Pages files to Word documents or epubs and upload directly to the distributors. I suppose if I'd had issues with the upload I would've dug deeper into formatting solutions, but honestly, KDP makes it so easy that I've never needed to do anything but upload, preview, publish.

      I've heard that Word inserts unwanted formatting into the document, so your advice to Clear Formatting is great. Apple Pages doesn't insert random formatting, which is great.

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    2. Thanks, Julie. I don't know how to do ePubs, either, but I don't seem to need to, either for my e-books or my print books.

      Good to hear that Apple Pages doesn't have the same problems with needing to Clear Formatting! Another reason to consider getting a Mac!

      Happy Holidays! :-)

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